Ron Gone

Texas Congressman and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has announced that he won’t be spending resources to contest Republican primaries in any states that haven’t yet voted.  It’s just another reason why Mitt Romney is now described as the “presumptive” Republican nominee.

Paul always seemed like somebody’s batty uncle.  Now that he’s called a kind of end to his campaign, he can go back to the House of Representatives, where he has served for years and accomplished virtually nothing.  (Of course, the people who support Paul probably think that is a good thing.  When you take a libertarian approach to the issues, you don’t want the federal government doing much of anything.)  Still, Paul was entertaining, and his views clearly resonated with a quirky core of voters.  Accordingly, he deserves a bit of farewell doggerel:

Bring all troops home, so Ron Paul said,

And while we’re at it, shut down the Fed

Time to get government off our backs

Which means we end the income tax

And there’s one other thing we hate

Yes, that would be the welfare state

We’ll also strongly protect our borders

While we all become gold hoarders

So anti-government Ron is done

Now he’ll head back to . . . Washington?

Horror South Of The Border

Yesterday Mexican officials found the headless bodies of 49 unknown people — all with hands and feet also cut off — on a highway near the city of Monterrey. The bodies, already beginning to decompose, were dumped in a pile on the road.

Mexico has been dealing with drug violence for years, and its politicians keep promising to end the killings and curtail the powers of the drug cartels.  However, the violence seems to be getting worse, with cartels and their enforcers fighting for control of territories, thousands of people killed in the conflicts, and decapitations becoming increasingly common. Moreover, this latest lawlessness strikes very close to home for Americans.  Monterrey is the capital of the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, which is located just across the border from Texas.

Incidents like this make Mexico seem like the location for apocalyptic fiction about a future where social order has totally broken down and only brute force prevails.  We can’t afford to have Mexico descend into utter chaos, however.  Although we obviously need to pay attention to the financial disasters that are rocking Europe, we can’t afford to forget about our neighbor to the south, and the possibility that the awful violence could spill over onto American soil.

When People Give Up

The April unemployment rate dropped slightly, to 8.1 percent.  Unfortunately, the decline was due not so much to the creation of new jobs, but to the fact that hundreds of thousands of people just quit looking for work.

Under the government’s approach to calculating the unemployment rate, those people just aren’t counted as unemployed any more.  As a result of the continuing decline in the number of people looking for work, the share of Americans who are part of the labor force — either working or actively looking — has reached its lowest point in 30 years.  Some of the people who have quit looking for work are early retiring Baby Boomers, but many are people who have just given up hope of finding a job.

There is a tremendous human cost when people give up.  They may have started their job search with confidence, sending out resumes and answering want ads and going to job fairs.  But, after months without success, grim reality creeps in.  They know they have failed, and it embarrasses them.  Often, because they are embarrassed, they lash out at family and friends.  They limit their horizons, rationalize their failure, and stop dreaming of a better future.  They focus, instead, on settling and making do with what they have left.  The whole process sucks the air out of their balloon and they face life deflated and defeated.

There’s a reason why many parents won’t allow their kids to quit a sports team or a school activity once they’ve committed to it.  That’s because quitting tends to lead to more quitting.  Once you’ve stopped trying in one area, and just accepted your reduced status, it becomes progressively easier to quit in other areas, too — whether it is school, or work, or relationships.  Quitting is cancerous.

I think this is the hidden, long-term issue we will be dealing with if this recession ever ends.  There are people of all age groups who have given up.  The younger ones may have moved back in with their parents; the older ones may be slowly spending their savings and trying to hold on.  Will those people ever be reinvigorated, given their confidence back, and returned to the point where they dare to dream again?